John Ponsford R.A. (1792-1867)
John Ponsford was born on 17th August 1792 in Modbury, Devon and died aged 74 in Kensington, London in the second quarter of 1867. His parents were Thomas and Peggy Ponsford and he had five brothers and sisters: Elizabeth, born 24 February 1786, Maria, born 2 March 1788, Thomas born 6 April 1790, John himself, born 17th August 1792, Mary Ann, born 22 April 1794, and William, born 3 January 1800 . There is no evidence of his ever having been married.
John Ponsford was a well known and very accomplished portrait artist who had been an art instructor in the Modbury and Plymouth area of Devon. It is possible that he taught Emily Stackhouse, the famous botanist and artist, when she was living in Modbury. He was later a portrait artist based in Plymouth though he lived for a time in St. John's Wood, London and, inter alia, exhibited at the Royal Academy, London 1823-57. An insurance document dated 23 September 1829 held in the National Archives contains a reference to John Ponsford. His address at that time was 78 Edgware Road, London. John Ponsford has traditionally been associated with Exeter but there is no solid evidence that he ever lived there. He left London in 1829 when he was aged 37 and studied art in Rome although he returned to London in later life and died there in 1867.
In the book “Art in Devonshire” by George Pycroft - 1883, John Ponsford is described thus:
“Ponsford, John, portrait painter in oils, born at Modbury about the year 1790. It is not known by whom he was instructed; but at an early age he removed to Plymouth, where he began to paint portraits with varying success. After a time he established his fame, and for many years was regarded as one of the best, if not the best, portrait painter of his day in Devonshire. He had the advantage of study in Rome in his early days and he died in London in the year 1870. Although he flourished in the lifetime of many persons still living in Plymouth and other parts of South Devon, so fleeting is the remembrance of the man’s reputation, that this scanty memoir contains all the information the writer has been able to gather.”
It is certainly possible to classify John Ponsford as primarily a portrait artist, although some of his earlier works explore a somewhat different genre. He studied in Rome. He is known to have exhibited four paintings at the Royal Academy; five works including four portraits at the Royal Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street; and one work, “Il Viaggiatore” at the British Institution.